A Kaleidoscope in Her Head

“Someone stole my cane,” exclaims my mother over the phone. “Why would anyone steal from me, an old lady?”

“Where were you?” I ask.

“In the store. I can’t remember which one,” she responds. “I put it in the shopping cart and when I left, it was gone. Someone took it out of the cart.”

I am certain the cane wasn’t stolen, but that she left it somewhere. It has happened before. I don’t remind her because it would only make her more agitated.

Suspicion is a classic behavior in early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association says don’t argue or try to convince otherwise. If appropriate, duplicate the lost item and have more than one available if you think it makes sense.

The next day we go to the medical supply store and I buy Mom two new canes. The man behind the counter adjusts them to her height. She doesn’t skip a beat as she grasps one in her right hand, leans into it, and sprints toward the door.

We spend the next two hours taking a leisurely Sunday drive on a beautiful Thursday afternoon.

Back home, I place one cane on the table and put the other in the back of the closet for safekeeping. A few moments later, Mom glances at the cane I left out and remarks, “Oh, there’s my missing cane.”

I freeze and feel a clutching in my gut. Instead of correcting her, I simply say, “Thank goodness.”

How can it be that in the previous two hours, as we drove through the countryside and down to the beach, she seemed perfectly lucid? We chatted, she told stories (yes, ones I’ve heard a billion times before), recalled facts both old and current, thanked me profusely for the delightful afternoon, and mentioned several of the sights we had seen on our drive. Surely, someone with dementia couldn’t communicate so coherently.

In and out of reality — a sad truth about this insidious condition and one that is nearly impossible for my own brain to grasp. I can only imagine how it must feel to my mother, for she clearly struggles to make sense of her confused state of mind. She recently told Pam, one of her caregivers, that especially at night when she closes her eyes it seems as if she has a kaleidoscope in her head.

When I close my eyes that night I think only about my mother and what may lie ahead. I catch another glimpse early the next morning when the phone rings. My husband hands it to me and says, “It’s your mother. She sounds upset.”

I barely say hello when she cries out, “Diane, I’m haunted by the thought that someone stole your father’s cane! You know, the hand carved cane you bought for him. I’ve been using it and someone stole it.”

Once again, panic begins to rise in my chest. I take a deep breath and tell her, “Mom, Dad’s cane is safe at my house. You gave it to me after he died.”

“But, I’ve been using it,” she replies. “How can it be at your house?”

As carefully as I can, I explain that she’s been using a different cane, which went missing recently so we just bought her a new one. While on the phone, she reaches down beside her and tells me, “Oh, yes, here it is.”

My dad passed away nearly two years ago and she has never mentioned his cane before, except when she told me I should take it home. At a recent reunion, however, my mother was spellbound by an old family video we watched one night. In it, my dad, his hand firmly grasping his cane, tells the family how much joy it brings him to have us all together. Truth be told, we were all spellbound, but Mom has since watched the video at least a dozen times. “Did you see him?” she asks over and over. “He looked so alive and healthy. I can’t get over it.”

So now, she has no memory of the old metal cane she lost. Instead she believes that she uses her late husband’s cane and is gripped with fear that it was stolen by a stranger. She tells me she can feel his presence as her hand rests against the wooden handle he gripped not so long ago. Once again I remind her that it is safe at my house. I ask her if she wants me to have the cane cut to her height so she can use it. She says, “No, I might lose it.”

But, my mother needs all the help she can get as she tries to make her way through the jumbled up kaleidoscope in her head. If Dad’s cane can help pull her vision into focus even just a smidgeon, then I think I need to hang it back on her doorknob instead of mine.

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